The time I met the oldest Ascension Catholic graduate

John Beck, Special to The Chief
102-year-old Lumina Newchurch, the oldest known graduate of Ascension Catholic.

For the past several Months, as advancement director of Ascension Catholic, I have been reaching out to our alumni to help reconnect them to the "Foundation of their Education and the Roots of their Faith."

With phone calls, emails, announcements in church, and networking our database is growing. Mrs. Agnes Pizzaloto informed me about her aunt, who could be the oldest known living alumnus of Ascension Catholic. Her name is Miss Lumina Newchurch, known by those who know her as "Aunt Mina," and as "God's Angel," for her collection of some 4,000 angels that decorate her apartment.

She was born in Paincourtville, Louisiana in 1916, and will be 103 on September 21. She is now a resident of St. James Place, (assisted living) in Baton Rouge since 2001.

My wife, Jeannette and I recently visited her at her apartment. We found an amazing lady with a warm smile and beautiful silver hair. She was "sharp as a tack," and overflowing with personality. She is a beautiful soul, inside and out.

She was sitting in her favorite chair as she began to tell us about her life.

Miss Newchurch went to primary school at St. Elizabeth in Paincourtville and remembers that her second grade class only had two students. She then went to St. Vincent Institute in Donaldsonville (renamed Ascension Catholic in 1954).

The school at that time was divided where boys and girls were kept separate and had to walk on different sides of the street when they went to mass. She said that she rode to-and-from school on the Greyhound Bus. She couldn't participate in after-school activities, because she had to catch the bus to go home.

She then gave us her school cheer that all the girls would chant: "Rooty-toot-toot, rooty-toot-toot! We belong to the Institute! We don't smoke, and we don't chew, and we don't go with boys that do!"

She also fondly remembers one of her teachers, an Ursuline Nun, who would often pray to St. Joseph. When she didn't think her prayers were being answered, the nun would turn the St. Joseph statue around facing the wall.

Newchurch graduated from St. Vincent in 1932, with about 30 in her graduating class. She then attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where she majored in Chemistry, with a minor in Math and French. In 1937, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree.

She told us that in 1967 she obtained her license to become a Notary. She then showed us her office in her apartment where she still does notary work for some of the residents of St. James Place. Her office was well-equipped with a computer, a printer, and a typewriter.

While she uses a walker to get around, her faith and spirit have kept her moving. Her laughter and personality beamed with delight as she shared her past with us. She told us that when she turned 100, Richard Meek of theCatholic Commentator interviewed her. She gave us a copy of that edition.

Before we left, I showed Miss Newchurch the "I love you" sign that I often share and gave her a blessed holy medal and book marker from our school. She told us that she has been so blessed throughout her life, and particularly to have the opportunity to attend a Catholic School.

Additionally, she was happy to be reconnected to her Alma Mater, the "Foundation of her Education and the Roots of her Faith." She updated her personal profile at, including her birthday, phone number, and email address.

She concluded our time together by saying, "The church is my life. And if there is anybody else more blessed than me, I want to meet them."

My wife and I left her apartment knowing that we, too were also blessed to have met such a beautiful and devoted lady who continues to uplift and inspire everyone she meets.